Will Mahoney: Played the Xylophone with His Feet

This would be a sorry excuse for a vaudeville blog indeed if it only profiled one xylophone player. A few weeks back we featured Professor Lamberti. Now we add another. Today is the birthday (1894) of Will Mahoney, who was not only a superlative xylophonist and a top flight tap dancer (he once tied for 3rd place with Fred Astaire in a contest*) but, in the true vaudeville spirit, he affixed mallets to his feet and tap danced ON the xylophone, playing a tune as he did so.I thought only Warner Brothers cartoons could do things like that.

The other interesting aspect of Mahoney’s career is that he managed to remain a vaudevillian much later than most others, by being willing to migrate. When American vaud died circa 1932 (and he was one of the last to play the Palace during its original heyday by the way) he moved to England. And when variety died there a few years later, he took his act to Australia, where he was able to work a couple of more decades. (Indeed, he stayed so long that when he came back to the U.S. for the occasional appearance, he was thought by many to be an Australian act.

Will Mahoney man xylophone

A native Montanan, Mahoney ran away from home at the age of 8 to be in show business with his brother. They danced and did knockabout comedy for about 10 years before Mahoney split off on his own. By the 20s he was a big time act and even starred in several Broadway revues. His last show was the original production of Funny Girl in 1964. He passed away two years later from complications arising from a stroke.

* Second place was Jack Donahue, First was Bill Robinson, according to Vaudeville Old and New.

To learn more about the roots of vaudeville, including nutty acts like Will Mahoney, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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